Monday, 30 December 2013

Why UKIP will win the European Elections in 2014

The elections to the European parliament couldn't come at a worse time for mainstream political parties. Whilst the Labour Party under Miliband are desperately trying to move the public debate to the 'cost of living', the coalition parties would like to glow about their economic track record as the first green shoots are beginning to spring.

Europe however is the white elephant in the room and neither Labour nor the Conservatives can hope to gain anything from the coming European elections in 2014. The only party that is bound to shine is UKIP, the strongly anti-European party that has consistently made the case about the drawbacks of European integration.

In the best of moods - Nigel Farage
Many pundits predict that UKIP will win most votes and emerge as the strongest party. As Europe is gripped in anti-European rhetoric from left to right, the next European parliament looks going to be an interesting one with anti-European parties making up a substantial minority.

The fascinating aspect of UKIP's rise however is the paradox that fuels its potential electoral success. UKIP's mantra has been that Europe has become the predominant (undemocratic) force in the lives of British people. The reason many Brits will vote for UKIP rests exactly on the opposite calculation. Many British feel that they are free to vote for the 'Kippers' exactly because their vote is so ineffectual. Few people in this country care (and I cannot blame them) who represents them in a Brussel's parliament that resembles more a talking shop than a properly legitimated legislature.

The main reason is that, contrary to life on the continent, Europe is far away from the British way of life, and seen more as a nuisance than a benefit. That's partly because Britain is an island but it is also because it is only partially integrated into the European treaties. Anybody who has gone recently through British immigration when coming off a plane can attest to the strange feeling, that Britain is somehow part but not quite inside the EU. What is missing is the 'lived experience' of Europe as it presents itself on the continent, from missing borders to integrated local services in the heart of Europe.

Paradoxically, that's the source of UKIP's electoral chances. Despite Farage's rhetoric, it is the irrelevance of Europe, its undemocratic institutions and its clownish 'president' Van Rompuy that makes the European Elections in 2014 the perfect target for voters who want to send a signal to all established political parties.

The dim lights of Europe - Van Rompuy and Ashton

So, I am convinced that UKIP will win the European Elections, just as it will sink without a trace again in the General Elections in 2015.

Friday, 20 December 2013

From Iraq to Syria and Woolwich

When the first tanks rolled into Iraq during the last military adventure of the Bush family, there was talk about a new coalition between those who favoured military intervention for political reasons, and those who did so for humanitarian reasons. A new creed seemed to be born, based on a supposed obligation of Western governments to protect and safeguard civilian populations from evil dictators or irresponsible governments.

This new doctrine was always shot through with loopholes and exemptions however for those states that happened to be allies of the West. Saudi Arabia could merrily continue to disenfranchise half its population without fearing Western bombers. North Korea had bought itself an insurance policy through nuclear armament. So in the end, Western governments intervened where political expediency and moral indignation converged.

There was little principled thinking in this doctrine and eventually, as the Syrian civil war broke out, hypocrisy reached extraordinary heights when Obama and Cameron prepared for military strikes against the Syrian government.

How ever you look at it, the doctrine lacked consistency and its shoddy application in practice roused the suspicion that it was just another tool to justify Western intervention wherever it pleased. Seumas Milne wrote in The Guardian today that the inability to draw an association between Western military intervention in the Middle East and the repercussions in the Muslim communities in Britain is at best naive.

What is needed now is a serious re-appraisal of this doctrine and the re-application of principled policy making in foreign policy. Western governments do have obligations. Yet taking sides in a civil war is not one of them. This is where Robin Cook, long time ago, started the reform of British foreign policy and we have to pick up where he left it.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Under the shadow of Iraq

As the barristers in the trial of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale prepare for sentencing, the full story behind this gruesome killing is still emerging. There can be no doubt that this is a case that will shock all decent people living in Britain. My main reaction however is one of confusion, confusion mainly about how two people could have concluded that murdering an innocent person would bring justice to those killed in Iraq.

The guilt of both defendants was never in doubt, yet what is less clear is how we should deal with people who have become fanatic followers of a religion. In a way, religious fanaticism has been with us for centuries, and blinding, at times murderous, loyalty to Christianity, Judaism or Islam has continuously challenged our belief in humanity. Yet, it seems to me that this is not just a question of religion.

There remains the nagging thought in the back of my head that the radicalisation of Adebolajo may not have happened without the disastrous adventure of Iraq which cost hundreds of thousands of lives. And it is not just that. When the Iraq war devastated lives, many didn't act and felt powerless. In a sense, Adebolajo was determined not to remain powerless, but ultimately only became a pawn in a larger game.

During the trial and in his police interviews, Adebowale instinctively put his finger on the nub of the problem when he tried to claim for himself the status of a combatant, a fighter for justice. If you wear a uniform and follow the misguided orders of deluded politicians, you are a hero. If you do not wear a uniform, any retaliation for the suffering we have caused in other countries is murder, plain and simple. As long as the balance of recognition for a just cause is so heavily weighted in favour of 'legitimate force', some may try to take justice into their own hands whilst creating only more sorrow and pain.